In their fifth game of the season, and the third on home soil, the Toronto Varsity Blues attempted to reach .500 against the University of Guelph Gryphons on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Varsity Centre during week four of Ontario University Athletics action.
Coming from a disappointing defeat by the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees—in which the Blues suffered a 34‒10 loss—the team came out of the gate to a cheering crowd, with 3,596 people in attendance. Right from the kick-off, fans celebrating the “Bleed Blue Spirit Game” erupted into a frenzy as Trevor Harvey returned the kick to the 35-yard line. UTM’s own Eric Hewitson also made use of the early momentum with a field goal from the 41-yard line to put the Varsity Blues up 3‒0 at the beginning of the first quarter.
With a dominating defensive performance throughout the first quarter, the Blues adamantly tried to keep the Gryphons out of their end zone; this was effective until the four-minute mark, when Guelph scored a touchdown after quarterback Jazz Lindsey threw the ball to the end zone where his teammate and brother, Saxon Lindsey, was waiting to make the catch and completed a 14-yard touchdown. The Gryphons later made the field goal, putting them in the lead at the end of the quarter with a score of 7‒3.
A slow start to the second quarter led to a slew of fumbles, interceptions, and continuous back-and-forth plays between the two teams. U of T passed the Gryphons at the nine-minute mark to loud cheers from fans. Yet a sudden surge from Guelph’s wide receiver A’Dre Fraser to the 40-yard line put the team in position to make their way down the field, where their efforts were rewarded as the Lindsey brothers connected again to put the Gryphons up 14‒3.
As U of T once again attempted a comeback, they were met with an interception from the Gryphons’ Mac Myers, which led to a seven-yard penalty incurred by the Varsity Blues that allowed Guelph’s running back Johnny Augustine a one-yard rush into the end zone that put his team up 21‒7 close to the end of the second quarter.
Despite the Blues’ efforts to get out of this rut, they continued to be picked off during offensive possessions, but at the same time played an outstanding defence in order to prevent the Gryphons from widening the gap. The team’s subsequent possessions were also short-lived, as Blues quarterback Chris Jugovic was sacked at the 35-yard line, allowing Guelph to advance 10 yards on the next possession. UTM’s Larry Broni suffered an injury to his left leg as a result, limping off the field to cheers of support from U of T fans as the half wound to a close.
As the second half began, U of T was on the defensive, suffering a sudden surge to the five-yard line from the Gryphons, which lead to an eight-yard reception by wide receiver Dillon Dimitroff for the team’s fourth touchdown of the game, making the score 28‒3.
As U of T tried relentlessly to end their bad luck, the Gryphons attacked on all fronts, retaking possession through interceptions as they continued to dominate at the beginning of the third quarter. After conceding a conversion safety, which allotted two points to U of T, the Varsity Blues took over offensive possession and once again attempted to come back from their deficit, since they had ample time to do so. Even with an outstanding first down and a reception of more than 20 yards by U of T receiver Alex Pierzchalski, the team’s hard work was not enough to end the scoring drought.
As the third quarter whittled down, fans were treated to a 36-yard gain by Paul dePass, before the following down was intercepted by defensive back Tristan Doughlin of the Gryphons.
Despite the score, U of T fans didn’t lose hope as the fourth quarter began. They cheered on the Blues to make a comeback, a feat that seemed feasible with 15 minutes left in the game, Guelph shifted the momentum once again by promptly responding with a successful 47-yard field goal attempt by Daniel Ferraro—a career best—that gave the Gryphons a 31‒5 lead.
The dominating performance continued as running back Bryson Wishloff-Doboush of the Gryphons made a 20-yard dash to the end zone to give Guelph a 38‒5 lead. As the time ticked away, U of T fans, who thought all hope was lost, were treated to an incredible run by a fiercely determined Kevin Bradfield, who made a breathtaking 97-yard punt return to the opposition’s end for a touchdown that brought the score to 38-12.
However, as the seconds wound down, the highlight-reel-worthy rush was not enough to give U of T the win.
“That was incredible,” said UTM’s Eric Hewitson, a second-year English major and kicker for the Varsity Blues, who, despite the loss, is confident of his team’s ability to win games. “I know for a fact that we have the coaching staff and the leadership to overcome adversity and pull through, and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll make some noise.”
Hewitson’s outlook may be positive, but he understands that the team’s performance will need to improve.
“We’re tired of getting beat like this. We want to make some noise in the OUA,” he adds.
Hewitson contributed a field goal in the first quarter, and he plans to continue working on his performance: “I’m just trying to hit my assignments; my special team’s coaches have a lot of trust in me for field goals, and today I’m glad I was able to execute one of them.”
Mirroring the positive attitude of his player, Greg Gary, coach of the Varsity Blues, still feels confident that his team has what it takes to win games.
“What I learned about our team is that we compete until the very end,” says Gary. “We played the full 60 minutes, and I thought that part was important.”
Gary praised his competition’s execution as “near-perfect”. Nodding towards the scoreboard, he added, “I mean, that shows you how they played. They played on all facets in special teams; on offence and on defence, they did everything they needed to do. We had a couple good runs, but overall they played really good run-defence.”
In terms of success among his own players, Gary mentions two rising stars from UTM who have been integral to the success of the Blues: Larry Broni, a third-year sociology major, and Hewitson.
“Broni played fantastic today; he’s a high energy guy [with whom] I look to have a great future in the [football] program,” said Gary. “It’s great that he’s down at UTM; we like having a presence there.”
Gary made it clear that Hewitson’s contributions to the team have not gone unnoticed, even if the team’s touchdown-centred game plan means they can’t use his talents as often as they’d like at this point.
As the Blues move forward in their pursuit of victory in the OUA, they will finish their September matches by facing the University of Windsor on September 21 and Carleton University on September 29.